COURT HOUSE – Cape May County Chamber of Commerce President Vicki Clark April 20 provided the organization’s position on offshore wind.
With three minutes to comment, Clark demonstrated a balancing act, supporting renewable energy and welcoming the potential economic opportunities that would accompany billions of dollars in new coastal infrastructure, while also raising concerns about the potential impact to the existing local economies.
It’s a discussion that has heated up this year.
Ocean Wind, the furthest along of several wind power projects proposed off New Jersey beaches, envisions 99 turbines, starting 15 miles from the beach. The company, Orsted, based in Denmark, plans to begin construction by 2023 and generate power by the end of 2024.
Local citizen opposition groups formed, while some governments expressed skepticism, including the Cape May County Board of County Commissioners and Ocean City Council, citing the potential impact on the local economy.
Speaking at one of three public meetings presented by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM), Clark raised those issues.
Most jobs in Cape May County depend directly or indirectly on tourism or fishing, she pointed out. Tourism, mostly in the form of beach vacations in summer, is a $6.9 billion industry in the county. While fishing is not as big a number, at $300 million each year, it means jobs for a significant number of local families.
However, she said waterfront communities must take reducing carbon emissions seriously, saying the chamber supports green energy initiatives, which are needed for the long-term future for both tourism and fishing.
Environmentalists on Every Side
The meetings were part of the BOEM’s public comment period on the Ocean Wind proposal. That process ended at midnight April 30.
Both those supporting the proposal and those opposed describe themselves as environmentalists, with those against wind power raising concerns about migrating wildlife and supporters arguing that new alternatives to fossil fuel consumption must be found to reduce the outpouring of carbon gas most scientists agree is warming the planet.
The organization Save Our Shoreline NJ argues the turbines will threaten wildlife, including migrating birds and marine mammals.
“Impacts from offshore wind construction and operation raise serious red flags with regards to ecosystem dangers in the air space to the seafloor. There are protected and endangered species in jeopardy,” reads a statement from the organization.
The New Jersey Sierra Club April 26 said in a release it is the wind power critics who may hurt tourism and the environment.
“Their arguments are based on false or specious grounds rather than real facts. They are worried that wind turbines will hurt tourism. However, we never heard from these people when we were fighting the B.L. England plant,” stated Jeff Tittel, then-director of the New Jersey Sierra Club, in a release. He retired effective May 1.
“Tourists visiting the Jersey Shore care about clean air, renewable energy, and climate change and don’t want a polluting power plant,” Tittel added.
See the full release at the bottom of this article online.
Clean Ocean Action, well known in the area for decades’ worth of volunteer beach sweeps, called for a pause in the environmental assessment of wind power projects. Their concern goes well beyond the South Jersey proposal.
“Clean Ocean Action does not oppose offshore wind, but it must be done right and responsibly and be a model for the country,” reads an April 24 statement from the organization (https://bit.ly/3bcAkvt).
There are already 400,000 acres approved for offshore wind power development, the organization stated, with an initiative from President Joe Biden’s administration to add another 800,000 acres.
“We must make sure offshore wind development is responsible and protective,” reads the statement.
Jobs and Power
The Ocean Wind project is expected to cost about $695 million and generate enough electricity to power a half-million homes. Additional projects are planned for the Jersey coast, as part of a plan by Gov. Phil Murphy to ween the state power grid off fossil fuels by 2050.
The turbines will be taller than the tallest building in Atlantic City, with a far wider circumference than the county’s largest Ferris wheels. The power will cost an estimated $1.46 a month more for the average electricity consumer, according to projections by Orsted.
According to Orsted spokesman Gabriel Martinez, the company expects BOEM to issue a record of decision in March 2023, which will explain its decision, describe the alternatives considered, and discuss plans for mitigation and monitoring.
There are also other considerations, including federal permit guidelines, other development, and final investment decisions by Orsted and Public Service Energy Group (PSEG).
“We are thrilled to continue moving the project forward,” Martinez said, in a prepared statement.
This spring, the Biden administration announced plans to expand offshore wind power along the Atlantic coast, Pacific coast, and the Gulf of Mexico. The announcement also cited progress on Ocean Wind, along with projects in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. The White House cited clean energy and good-paying union jobs in the announcement.
Other Jobs on the Line
Fishing industry representatives said the current plan would effectively exclude commercial boats from some of their most important fishing grounds.
“The current process in use by the BOEM identifies wind energy area sites without consideration of their adverse environmental impacts in the original lease selection, on the locations historically rich and economically vital commercial fisheries, or on the communities that support and benefit from those fisheries,” reads a statement from Scot Mackey to BOEM, on behalf of the Garden State Seafood Association (https://bit.ly/3o27mUf). “The only factors even considered in the initial location determination was visibility from shore and an attempt to minimize bird interactions, not the needs of other ocean users, particularly fishermen.”
Orsted said the area will be open to recreational and commercial fishing once construction is completed, but the fishing group said there is not enough room planned between the turbines within the Ocean Wind project zone for commercial fishing boats to safely travel through or work in the area.
“Fisheries are held to significant regulatory restrictions to minimize potential impact. BOEM must develop a similar system to ensure the whales, Atlantic sturgeon, and other marine endangered species continued protection prior to approving this project with possible significant acoustic impacts during construction and operation,” Mackey continues.
Martinez states the company is committed to working with the recreational and commercial fishing industries. That included hundreds of meetings with the local fishing community, he said, and he promised the company would seek to diminish disruption during all phases of development.
“The fishing community is engrained into the fabric of our Jersey Shore, both from an economic and cultural perspective,” he said.
In reports, Orsted outlined discussions with the fishing industry.
“We believe that good communication is essential to creating understanding between those who provide food for our tables and those who provide electricity for our homes,” reads one of the documents. “While not all conflicts can be resolved through communication alone, open and honest interaction helps to manage conflicts when they arise and identify ways to avoid or mitigate impacts that may occur.”
In her brief comments, Clark made a similar point.
“We believe that there can be coexistence if there is open communication and cooperation and understanding of what is needed by each industry to succeed alongside each other,” she said.
In his statement, however, Mackey said there remains a lack of “transparent information” about the power generation, pricing, and economic impacts of the proposal.